Great British Railways Headquarters: Crewe Bid

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 29th March 2022.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich 4:30 pm, 29th March 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered Crewe’s bid for the headquarters of Great British Railways.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I am proud to be here today on behalf of the people and businesses of Crewe, and to have this opportunity to showcase and explain to the Minister all the reasons why Crewe should be the home of Great British Railways’ new headquarters.

Crewe is at the heart of rail, and rail is at the heart of Crewe. Today I will talk about how Crewe’s heritage, local rail industry and connectivity, combined with the value for money it can offer and the opportunities to level up for Crewe’s people, make it an unbeatable choice for the GBR HQ.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

I strongly support my hon. Friend’s enthusiastic bid on behalf of Crewe. When considering a property, three matters are important: location, location and location. Does he therefore agree that Crewe’s geography makes it ideally suited to be the home of GBR? It is centrally located, with direct rail links not only to the south, the midlands and the north of England, but to Scotland and Wales.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I agree with my hon. Friend and thank her for coming to give her support today. It is about Crewe’s 360-degree connectivity, which is unrivalled when it comes to towns and other places seeking to become the home of the new GBR HQ.

Crewe was born from the railways. The decision by the Grand Junction Railway Company in 1837 to invest in a new station, which connected the Liverpool and Manchester railways and the London and Birmingham railways, transformed the village of Crewe into the railway town it is today, and the town’s growth has been linked to the railways ever since. The station was built alongside the Crewe Locomotive Works, which went on to become the largest locomotive works in the world. The first locomotive produced at Crewe Works was rolled out on 20 October 1843. The first locomotive produced at Crewe was given the number 32 and the name Tamerlane. The outline of the engines was very different from all previous designs and became known generally as the Crewe type, which lasted for many years. By the time locomotive production came to an end in the 1990s, more than 8,000 locomotives had been built in Crewe, with the site employing more than 20,000 people at its height. From speaking to constituents, I have met countless people whose families worked in the railway industry. Often multiple generations of the same local families have done so and continue to this day, with the Crewe Works site still active.

This rich heritage is to be seen all over the town. Opened in 1888, the beautiful Queen’s Park in the heart of Crewe was a gift to the town from the London and North Western Railway Company, to mark the joint occasion of the Queen’s jubilee and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the grand junction railway. The Crewe Heritage Centre was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh on 24 July 1987 to mark the 150th anniversary of the first train to arrive at Crewe railway station in 1837.

From steam trains to electrification and diesel programmes, Crewe’s rail connections, combined with its engineering workforce, has bound Crewe to the railway industry for generations, so it is no surprise that I can talk confidently and proudly about the amazing modern railway industry sector, built from this legacy, that now inhabits the town. Some 7% of the English railway workforce are based in Crewe, despite Crewe having just 0.1% of the population. The workforce is spread across an amazingly diverse range of businesses. Avanti, Arriva TrainCare, Train Bits and More, Jacobs, Freightliner, DB Cargo, Direct Rail Services, Alstom, Unipart Rail, Locomotive Services Ltd, Keltbray and more all operate in Crewe, and it is the headquarters for many. Alstom recently won the contract for the production of the bogies for HS2 at the original Crewe Works site. Freightliner has invested millions in a new maintenance facility for freight locomotives, while the Avanti West Coast partnership has established its nationwide talent academy in Crewe.

Crewe has retained and attracted many of the rail and rail supply chain businesses as they have innovated and evolved, meaning that it is well positioned and ready to be at the centre of rail reform and innovation throughout the 21st century and beyond. Looking to the future, the presence of the Crewe Engineering and Design UTC and the Institute of Technology at Cheshire College creates an opportunity for Crewe to be known as a centre of excellence for rail skills, capturing existing rail expertise and wider complementary skills to teach the next generation. All of this is placed at the most well-connected railway hub in the country. Crewe is a connector to major cities and towns across England and the Union, with six railway lines offering 360-degree connectivity. It is the only station on the main line that is connected to all the regional capitals, with direct connections to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and connections across Wales, allowing a GBR HQ based in Crewe to play its role in strengthening the Union.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury

My hon. Friend is making an excellent and compelling case for the GBR HQ to be based in Crewe. He will appreciate that I am also aware of the deep pride and passion that the people of Crewe have for their railway heritage, and they want a future for that important part of our transport infrastructure. Does he agree that one advantage of have the GBR HQ in Crewe is that officials and the great team that will be assembled there will become very familiar with the integrated rail system in and around Crewe, including between Crewe and Chester and other parts of Cheshire, and we could have something that is fit for the 21st century, not least a new station at Beeston Castle and Tarporley?

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I do indeed agree with my hon. Friend, and I thank him for his support for the bid to have the GBR HQ in Crewe.

More than 3 million people live within a 45-minute commute by road and rail and there are 12 major universities within an hour’s commute of Crewe. Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham are all within an hour’s commute by rail, reducing to less than 30 minutes when HS2 arrives. There are up to 40 services between Crewe and London each day and journey times as fast as 90 minutes, reducing to 55 minutes when HS2 arrives.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Of course, rail transport can take traffic off the motorways, notably the M6. I would be delighted to see the bid succeed because it would strengthen the case for reopening Middlewich railway station in my constituency of Congleton.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I fully support that ambition, because we all know how important local railway connections are, alongside the big intercity connections. I see on the roads in and around Crewe that challenge of freight and transport. The more we can get on to the railways, the better.

Crewe has connections to three international airports, making it the perfect place for engaging with the railway industry internationally. Importantly, that connectivity extends beyond passenger connections. As we have mentioned, Crewe is also a key strategic hub for the rail freight industry, with connections to ports servicing both the Irish sea and the Atlantic. Basing the GBR HQ at Crewe will send a clear message to the rail industry that the value and importance of rail freight is front and centre of the Government’s ambitions for our railways. There is no better place in the UK than Crewe to connect with all areas of the country, north to south and across the borders.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Member for giving way and for making such a powerful case. Crewe is a railway town, as hon. Members have said. A successful bid will power up Cheshire, so we are here, cross-party, to speak on its behalf, which gives the bid even more credibility, but it goes beyond Cheshire and the north-west. Indeed, it powers up our great nation, so I commend the hon. Member on his campaign. I hope the Minister listens and makes the correct, informed decision. The bid has cross-party support from both councils in Cheshire East and Cheshire West, and from all the local MPs, regardless of our political persuasion.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I thank Mike Amesbury for his support. As he says, the bid has cross-party support from councils and Members of Parliament. It would be a benefit not only to Crewe, but to the wider region.

I want to talk about what the GBR HQ coming to Crewe will do for the people of Crewe as well as for GBR. As I have mentioned, Crewe’s growth has often been tied to the railways. As locomotive manufacturing in the UK faded, although the community spirit and heritage remained, in some respects Crewe’s fortunes faded as well. Six out Crewe’s 13 wards are in the 10% of most deprived nationally, concentrated around the town centre. There is a £5,000 gap between household earnings in Crewe compared with the Cheshire East average, and 8.4% of 16 to 17-year-olds in central Crewe are not in education, employment or training, compared with a Cheshire East average of 2.3%.

We are already seeing benefits from the Government’s levelling-up agenda, which the awarding of GBR can build on and cement. We have a Crewe town deal, funding for an institute of technology, and of course the HS2 hub. Importantly, while all of those are positives, they would not replicate the investment that GBR represents. The area around the station has been allocated as the HS2 station hub strategic employment site, providing opportunities for new investment in high-grade office space, with a hotel and amenities unlike anything else currently available in Crewe. GBR has the opportunity to become the landmark occupier, helping to cement the scheme and shape the future regeneration of Crewe.

This journey of regeneration represents opportunities for GBR as well. As the Minister will see from the bid put forward by Cheshire East Council, there are several locations where the GBR headquarters could be placed in Crewe, all within a short walking distance of the station, other railway industry offices in Crew and, importantly, the HS2 development. There are many plots that are ready for staff to move into, involving little work and making the move very straightforward. Importantly, office rents in Crewe are 84% to 87% lower than in Birmingham or Manchester and would be much cheaper than many competing areas for the headquarters.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I commend my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for his passionate campaign for Great British Railways. The GBR headquarters have sparked a tremendous amount of debate and interest from colleagues across the House. Naturally, I am supporting my campaign for Darlington, where it all began, to be the home of GBR. Does he agree that, given the level of interest and the opportunity to extol the virtues of all our respective constituencies, if the Government could find time for the Minister to respond to a debate on the Floor of the House, that would be a tremendous opportunity for all of us to tell our stories and showcase everything that the United Kingdom has to offer?

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich

I agree with the hon. Member that it is not just in Crewe that this opportunity has galvanised communities. I am going to talk about how my community feels about it, but to give that full airing in a main debate in the Chamber would be a fantastic opportunity for so many Members to showcase the strength of feeling in their local areas.

Although there are other options, the value for money that Crewe offers will be difficult to beat. I know that the Minister will care deeply about the staff who are going to work there and want to know that they will have opportunities as well. Crewe is not only more affordable for office space; it is also more affordable when it comes to house prices, which are 39% cheaper than the UK average and 19% cheaper than the north-west average for a semi-detached house. That is not to take away from Crewe, however, as it has been ranked in the top three residential locations for the past three years by Property Week, and Cheshire East has been ranked as one of the top places to live in the north-west.

I can personally vouch for Crewe, as I live and work in the area myself. It is not short of cultural assets, such as the Crewe Lyceum theatre, Crewe Market Hall, Crewe Lifestyle Centre and Crewe Alex FC. It is also in close proximity to vibrant market towns such as Nantwich, Sandbach, Knutsford and Wilmslow. Additionally, Cheshire’s nearby Peak district encompasses nearly 100 square miles of beautiful scenery. GBR staff will be able to make a home in Crewe affordably and enjoy what Crewe and the whole region have to offer.

Taking all that into account, the Minister will understand why there is enormous support for the bid in my constituency. Crewe’s population is proud of the town’s railway heritage. From the day the competition was announced, I received emails and letters from constituents asking me to do everything possible to get the win for Crewe. The results of an online survey conducted by the Crewe Chronicle found that 97% of respondents were in favour of the arrival of GBR in Crewe. The Chronicle and Crewe Nub News are both giving their full support to the bid, alongside cross-party support from all the local party leaders and local councillors.

They are joined by cross-party support from 12 MPs from Stoke, Cheshire and Warrington. I thank every one of them for their support and those who have turned up to voice their support today. As well as Cheshire East Council and Crewe Town Council, we have the support of neighbouring Cheshire West Council in Chester and Warrington Council. The local football team and its supporters’ club, the RailwayMen, are geared up to get out the vote and, of course, Pete Waterman is continuing his long history of advocating for the railways in Crewe by being front and centre of our bid.

The Crewe town board and its chair, Doug Kinsman, have come to embody ambition for Crewe. They all support our bid alongside South Cheshire chamber of commerce and Cheshire College. We all look forward to the public vote and the opportunity to showcase that public support in full.

I hope that the Minister has enjoyed hearing about the strengths of our bid; about our rich rail heritage dating back to the 1800s; about our historical and modern railway industry locally; about our connectivity in the here and now, and in the future with HS2, connecting across our great nation and connecting for freight as well as passengers; about the opportunities to find a home for GBR that is affordable for the taxpayer and for the people who will work there, able to enjoy everything that Cheshire has to offer; and about the opportunities for GBR to help Crewe in return, as it continues to face challenges in the post-industrial era.

I finish by thanking the leaders of the political groups on Cheshire East Council and the staff and team at Cheshire East Council and the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership for their hard work on the bid, and all those in the community and industry locally who have helped to ensure that it is the best it can be. It is a bid that Crewe can be proud of, and one that I know all of Crewe is behind. On 4 July 2022, we will mark 185 years since the first train arrived in Crewe. It will be fitting for that anniversary to be marked by the announcement of Crewe becoming the home of Great British Railways.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester 4:45 pm, 29th March 2022

I congratulate my near neighbour, Dr Mullan, on that excellent speech. In fact, so comprehensive and passionate was his statement that he has not left much for the rest of us to say. With the greatest respect to other hon. Members, I must say that this is an obvious choice, for the very reasons the hon. Gentleman spoke about: the absolute intertwining of our railway history with Crewe’s history. Crewe is the original railway town. With the greatest respect to those areas in the north-east that might claim the first railway, the first railway town was Crewe.

I want to supplement and complement my hon. Friend’s speech with some reflections of my own, having grown up in Cheshire, and having spent lots of time at Crewe station—perhaps a bit more at the moment, since Avanti dropped most of its services between Chester and London, but more of that later. As a Cheshire man born and bred, when I arrive at Crewe from the south, whether from the west midlands via Stafford, down the London line or even across the east midlands on the route that goes over towards Stoke and Derby, I always feel like I am coming home. When I was a youngster, Greenall Whitley, the local brewery at the time, said “You are now entering Greenall Whitley land. Please set your clocks to local time.” It was to the south of the station, just by Basford Hall sidings, for many years. When I saw that, I knew I was almost home.

As a child, I visited one of the open days at Crewe railway works, which was a huge, sprawling site in those days. I have a certain sadness that it has contracted as much as it has. It now spreads along the line to Chester and north Wales on the right-hand side going out, but it is not nearly as big as it used to be. The hon. Gentleman talked about the changes in the railway structure—I think part of it is now a Morrisons, and the Eagle bridge housing estate, which takes its name from the railway bridge that went over from the old railway works over to the old Crewe electric railway depot to the north-west of the station. The diesel depot was just to the south of the station on the way out to Basford Hall and on the railway line down towards Shrewsbury and mid-Cheshire.

Just by remembering that, I am emphasising the point that the hon. Gentleman made about this 360-degree view that Crewe has of our railway system. It is great connectivity. Obviously, I am particularly interested in the line to Chester and then off to north Wales. I was speaking to the Wales Minister, and hopefully I will speak to the Transport Minister at some point about improving the services on that after the pandemic.

As I say, Avanti has been dragging its feet and it is unacceptable. Constituents are moaning—as much as they love Crewe and want to support the bid, they do not want to have to spend too much time changing at the railway station. But if they have to spend it anywhere, they may as well spend it at Crewe. It is so well connected: up to Scotland, both Glasgow and Edinburgh; down to Birmingham; across to south Wales with direct services that go through Herefordshire and Worcestershire; across to the east midlands as far as Newark and further, with direct services including Nottingham, Derby and Stoke; obviously, straight down to London; through to Birmingham and to the south-west. Again, there are direct cross-country services. The idea of connectivity absolutely makes sense.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich talked about HS2. He has been involved in recent years and he knows that we had to battle at times to get the HS2 hub for Crewe, but we think we have secured it now and we will get the services that will allow the full economic benefits of HS2 to spread out not just across the northern midlands and Staffordshire, but across Cheshire, which is why there has been a joint campaign by all Members of Parliament and local councils and the local enterprise partnership. That joint work is reflected in the current campaign, in which the hon. Gentleman is playing a leading role. The Crewe hub has political support from across the county and across political parties, as well as business support.

There is another aspect, which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich did not touch upon. I support HS2 completely and think it is a great idea, but it cannot simply be a fast link between cities that allows those cities to grow. Without deviating from the subject of the debate, Crewe offers an opportunity to share the benefits of HS2 outside the cities. I make that point because I hope the Minister will reflect on the fact that there will be big cities that will bid for the headquarters of Great British Railways, but there will also be towns where perhaps benefits have not been shared fairly or which have not benefited from so much economic growth. Crewe is a perfect example of a town, as opposed to a city, where the headquarters would make a real difference and the benefits would spread out across the whole of my county, which is why we are so keen to have it. I would be grateful if the Minister could take fair notice of the idea of sharing the growth not just among the big cities, but among the towns.

Having the headquarters would be a mark of prestige for Cheshire, and this is a prestigious bid for us. However, as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, it would also be a good move for Great British Railways. It would find a welcoming county that has much to offer. Yes, Crewe is a railway town but it is also a great place to live and to do business. I have no doubt that in Crewe, as well as in the wider county, Great British Railways will find a warm welcome and a real home.

We have talked about house prices and amenities in Crewe. If the hon. Gentleman will let me say so, the employees of Great British Railways could also come and live in Chester, which is only about 20 minutes down the line, when we get a connecting train. As a Cestrian and a Cheshire man myself, I would encourage the employees of Great British Railways, when they come, to look at Cheshire as a really welcoming place.

I finish by giving my warm support and using the phrase with which the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich began his speech—it had occurred to me, but he put it so well. Crewe is at the geographical heart of this nation’s railways, but this nation’s railways are absolutely at the heart of Crewe. It is a town and ours is an area that fundamentally understand and are grateful for the contribution that the railways have made. I fully support the campaign, headed by the hon. Gentleman and Cheshire East Council, and I hope the Minister will give fair consideration to this fantastic bid.

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:53 pm, 29th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Rees.

I commend Dr Mullan for his staunch support for his constituency and the bid that has led to this important debate. I thank all Members for their important contributions and their obvious passion and support for Crewe and Nantwich.

I know that many Members across the House share the hon. Gentleman’s passion for ensuring Great British Railways is based in their own constituency, so while the hon. Gentleman might tempt me into backing his specific bid, it is important that due process is taken to ensure the most suitable location. Indeed, over 40 separate bids have been launched across the country to be the new home of Great British Railways, including a bid in my own region of South Yorkshire. I am sure the Minister will reassure me that all bids will be carefully considered on their merits and not on the political benefits of the Conservative party, as some believe they have seen in the past.

Crewe has put forward an excellent bid. As the leader of Cheshire East Council Councillor Corcoran notes, Crewe is

“a rail town through and through” that has

“rail at the heart of the town.”

As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich has detailed, Crewe has proud and historic roots when it comes to our rail network. It is often described as the most historically significant railway station in the world. Crewe railway station was opened in 1837 and is a grade II listed building. The grand junction railway, built to connect Birmingham to a junction with Manchester and Liverpool, opened the same year with the station taking its name from the nearby Crewe Hall. Since then, the town has largely been built by and for the railway.

Today, Crewe is a proud town with a rich and influential history in rail. Even now, Crewe is a vital interchange for our railways and will form an integral part of the integrated rail plan. It is also the birthplace of the Crewe locomotive works, which went on to become one of the largest locomotive works in the world. More than 7,000 steam locomotives were produced there prior to the expansive diesel locomotive production. In fact, the work was so influential that engine design was known as the Crewe type for many years, making it one of our proud historic British manufacturing hubs.

Indeed, British manufacturing and procurement should be at the very heart of the formation of Great British Railways and the implementation of the integrated rail plan. For example, we must ensure that HS2 is procuring British-made steel and that the new HQ guarantees local jobs. The driving force for change on our railways should be centred on benefits it can bring to local people. That is why I strongly welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring that Great British Railways is based outside London, where communities have felt overlooked for far too long when it comes to funding, infrastructure and Government attention. I urge the Minister to ensure that this new HQ is not simply a token gesture but provides genuine investment and jobs in the chosen location. Can the Minister confirm today exactly how many jobs she expects there to be at the new Great British Railways HQ?

On the Opposition Benches, we want to see Great British Railways become a success for the industry and passengers. However, without the much-needed detail on this matter, I feel the Government may pull back on their promises and funding, as seen previously. The current plans as they stand are already not going far enough. As my colleagues have consistently outlined, Great British Railways will privatise the profit but nationalise the risk. The truth is that taxpayers’ money has been consistently misplaced when it comes to our railways. The Government prefer to pay extortionate consultancy fees and bleed profits into the pockets of operators, which go to subsidise the rail network of other nations at the expense of our own. We should be seeing the Government re-establishing 21,000 cut services, properly funding Transport for the North and halting the £1 billion cut from Network Rail. I urge the Minister to ensure that the promises she has made on Great British Railways are delivered in full.

The industry needs clarity on the detail of what Great British Railways will look like. Can the Minister ensure that is shared as swiftly as possible? The Government’s unwillingness to nail down the details and provide a definitive direction for the future of our railways has risked stakeholder confidence. That risks leaving a lack of leadership when it has come to vital areas of our network such as electrification, digital signalling and rolling stock, which requires decades of planning.

While it is encouraging to see such enthusiasm about the future of our railways, I wish Government funding would match those ambitions. Encouraging people back to affordable, reliable and flexible services should be the Government’s priority when establishing Great British Railways, wherever it finds its home. Crewe certainly offers an excellent prospect for the Department, but I hope its expectations of what this opportunity can offer are fulfilled by the Government. I wish Crewe the best of luck with the bid. No matter the outcome, the rich rail heritage is certainly something the people of Crewe can be very proud of, and the same can be said for the passionate support shown by all hon. Members taking part in the debate.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport) 4:59 pm, 29th March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Ms Rees. Before I respond to the debate more broadly and to hon. Members, I want to thank my hon. Friend Dr Mullan for securing this debate. Only a few weeks ago, I was here debating the merits of Carnforth as a potential location for the Great British Railways headquarters. This is the fourth debate on this subject, with previous bids being for Darlington, as my hon. Friend Peter Gibson will recall, and for York. It has been heartening to listen to these debates, and to hear hon. Members from up and down the country engaging in an important conversation and debate about the future of our railways, supporting bids from their towns and cities. We have heard examples of outstanding work, and I know there are many others.

As I said in the earlier debate, railways are close to my heart. Both of my paternal great-grandfathers worked on the railways, one on the Wensleydale railway and the other in County Durham. I found out recently, since becoming rail Minister, that my dad was born in a railway cottage. In my own way, I like to think that I have a bit of rail heritage in my blood. I understand the importance of the railway industry and the amazingly rich rail heritage of this country.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich set out, Crewe has a proud rail heritage. Indeed, the Grand Junction Railway Company chose Crewe as the site for its locomotive works, as we have heard, and a railway station. Crewe was a small village and the railways transformed it into the vibrant railway town that we know today. The opening of the famous Crewe Works in 1840 heralded an era of tremendous growth for the town. When the Grand Junction Railway Company became a part of London and North Western Railway, one of the largest companies in the world at the time, Crewe Works found itself at the centre of its locomotive construction and maintenance.

Since 1837, the historic Crewe railway station has helped transform the town, as we have heard today, connecting Crewe to the rest of the UK and the wider world. It remains an important transport hub today. From the earliest days of the railways through to the modern day, Crewe has and will continue to play an important part of the railways in this country. Of course, my mailbox is evidence that there are many other towns and cities across the country that have played an important part in our railway heritage, which hon. Members are equally proud to represent. The response to this competition has been positive. I am pleased to say that, by the time the competition had closed on 16 March, we had received 42 applications, which is phenomenal.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Williams-Shapps plan for rail, published in May 2021, set out the path towards a truly passenger-focused railway, underpinned by new contracts that prioritise punctual and reliable services; the rapid delivery of a ticketing revolution, with new flexible and convenient tickets; and long-term proposals to build a modern, greener and accessible network. Central to the Williams-Shapps plan for rail is the establishment of a new rail body, Great British Railways. That will provide a single, familiar brand and strong, unified leadership across the rail network. Great British Railways will be responsible for delivering better value and flexible fares, and the punctual, reliable services that passengers deserve.

The competition for the national headquarters was launched by the Secretary of State on 5 February 2022, and closed for applications on 16 March. The GBR Transition Team is now evaluating the 42 submissions we have received from towns and cities across Great Britain, against a set of six criteria. It is important to understand those criteria: alignment to levelling-up objectives, connected and easy to get to, opportunities for GBR, railway heritage and links to the network, value for money, and public support.

The GBR Transition Team will recommend a shortlist of the most suitable locations, which will go forward to a consultative public vote, and then Ministers will make a final decision on the location of the headquarters, based on all the information gathered.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

On the issue of the public vote, some locations that are bidding have a significant population and some locations, such as mine and such as Crewe, represented by my hon. Friend Dr Mullan, have a considerably smaller population. Could the Minister outline for the House today what steps will be taken to ensure that proportionality is taken into account in weighing up those votes, so that small towns such as Darlington, which is bidding as where it all began, and Crewe, which is bidding as well, are taken into account and not swamped by those big places?

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. As I set out, in this competition, it is open to towns and cities to apply, and we have seen applications come forward from both towns and cities, as we have been hearing today and throughout the relevant debates. The important thing to remember is that there will be the consultative public vote but that is only one of a number of factors that we, as Ministers, will take into account. We will base our final decision on all the information that we receive. But I take on board the point that my hon. Friend has just made.

As I mentioned, I have been so pleased by the number of bids that we have received and by the quality of the bids. They have been of a really high quality. I am sure that, whichever location we choose, the future headquarters will go to somewhere that is truly deserving.

To go back to the points about GBR, it is important to recognise that Great British Railways will bring ownership of the infrastructure, fares, timetables and planning of the network all together under one roof. It will bring today’s very fragmented railways under a single point of operational accountability, ensuring that the focus is on delivering for passengers and freight customers. Great British Railways will be a new organisation with a commercial mindset and a strong customer focus. It will have a different culture from the current infrastructure owner, Network Rail, and very different incentives from the beginning.

Gill Furniss made the point about numbers, and what I can say is that the national headquarters will be of a modest size and we are not anticipating significant Network Rail relocations as a result of it, because the existing rail workforce will still have an important role to play. The new HQ will be based outside London. It will bring the railway closer to the people and communities that it serves, ensuring that skilled jobs and economic benefits are focused beyond the capital. That is very much in line with the Government’s commitment to levelling up.

I want to touch on a point about regional devolution. I have mentioned that alongside a new national headquarters, GBR will have regional divisions that are responsible and accountable for the railway in local areas, ensuring that decisions about the railway are brought closer to the passengers and communities that it serves. GBR regional divisions will be organised in line with the regions established in Network Rail’s “Putting passengers first” programme, which reflects how passengers and freight move across the network today. Cities and regions in England will have greater influence over local ticketing, services and stations through new partnerships between the regional divisions and local and regional government. Initial conversations are starting with local stakeholders on how those partnerships can best work together.

I would normally turn now to the various points and questions raised by hon. Members, but I sensed that there was a lot of consensus across the Chamber today, with each Member, whichever town they were supporting, making very passionate arguments in support of their town’s bid. I recognise that we have had contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson), Mike Amesbury, my hon. Friend Peter Gibson and Christian Matheson. I thank them all for those contributions.

To conclude, the reforms proposed under the Williams-Shapps plan for rail will transform the railways for the better, strengthening and securing them for the next generation. The reforms will make the sector more accountable to taxpayers and Government. They will provide a bold new offer to passengers and freight customers of punctual and reliable services, simpler tickets and a modern, green and innovative railway that meets the needs of the nation.

While transformation on this scale cannot happen overnight, the Government and the sector are committed to ensuring that benefits for passengers and freight customers are brought forward as quickly as possible. We have already sold 150,000 of our new national flexi-season tickets, offering commuters savings as they return to the railways. The transition from the emergency recovery measures agreements to new national rail contracts is under way, providing more flexible contracts that incentivise operators to deliver for passengers.

GBR will be an organisation that works alongside the local communities it serves. Integrated local teams within GBR’s regional divisions will push forward design and delivery with their partners, supported by new incentives that encourage innovation, partnership and collaboration. It will be designed and have the structure to become yet another example of this Government’s historic commitment to levelling up regions across the nation.

Both the Government and the GBR transition team welcome the interests and advocacy from all the respective cities and towns that have put forward bids, and I very much welcome the participation of hon. Members in the competition for GBR’s headquarters so that together we can deliver the change that is required. We look forward to building this new vision for Britain’s railways in collaboration with the sector and the communities, and the creation of GBR’s headquarters is one of many steps we are taking to achieve that.

Photo of Kieran Mullan Kieran Mullan Conservative, Crewe and Nantwich 5:11 pm, 29th March 2022

I begin by thanking the Minister and the shadow Minister, Gill Furniss, for attending the debate today. If the Minister did not already have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the railway network, she certainly will do by the time this is all over.

I thank again the leaders of the groups of Cheshire East Council, the Cheshire and Warrington local enterprise partnership and their staff for the work they have done to produce our bid. I thank Pete Waterman, Cheshire Live, Crewe Nub News and Crewe Alexandra, as well as its supporters’ club, the Railwaymen. Again, I thank the 12 MPs who are supporting our bid, in particular the hon. Members for City of Chester (Christian Matheson) and for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) and my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Eddisbury (Edward Timpson) for speaking today in support of the bid.

It would be remiss of me not to highlight the key strengths of our bid one last time. Crewe could not be a better connected part of our railway network; it is at the heart of the freight industry and will be at the heart of the next generation of our railway network in the form of HS2. There is a rich, local, modern railway industry that has grown from our heritage, which means that the key players will only ever be a short walk away—and if they are not, they will definitely be a short train journey away.

Crewe has its challenges, and bringing GBR to Crewe would help us on our journey to improvement in a fantastic way. That journey represents opportunities for GBR, too: it is a place where people can live and work affordably, in an office that would represent value for money for the taxpayers. I am ambitious for Crewe; the people of Crewe are ambitious for Crewe; and I hope the Minister can be ambitious for Crewe as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered Crewe’s bid for the headquarters of Great British Railways.

Sitting adjourned.